Samsung started the trend of large screen smartphones, with the Note series, and thus started the weird name “Phablet”. Apple opposed such ideas, and always was against the idea of having large screens on phones, but they have to admit it some day that although the brand didn’t like it, customers were always looking to move over the 4-inch iPhones. Thus, finally we here see two new smartphones from Apple, the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. Which is more appealing? obviously the iPhone 6 Plus, given the 5.5-inch display and the power packed iOS 8.1 added by some exceptional features that are limited only to this particular device.
We won’t do those crazy bend tests, as that is not how a person uses the smartphone, by trying to do the craziest stuff. It’s a smartphone, and it is bound to slip and fall in worst cases. Only those who are using their back pocket to place the phone every time, have something to worry about. So, let’s get into the review of the beast, the iPhone 6 Plus from Apple.
Design, Form Factor
As said during the hands-on, the iPhone 6 Plus is huge, literally. But at the same time, it isn’t really that uncomfortable or bad, as the company has taken care of those little details in both hardware and software aspect. For example, in the hardware aspect it is the shifting of the button to the side frame from the top, so that it is easily accessible. It was Apple, the brand which never liked large screen phones. But when they had to enter the bandwagon, they took care of things in a way that no one feels it is just a larger device with no difference.
The most important part in the design, is the size of the phone. The iPhone 6 Plus, although keeps itself slim and even slimmer than last year’s iPhone 5s, it isn’t small from any angle. For those who felt that the wide 5.5-inch LG G3 was large for them, forget getting a comfortable hold of the iPhone 6 Plus, because this is bigger in both height and width compared to the G3. In fact, the device is taller than even the Galaxy Note 4.
The thickness of the 6 Plus still retains a little comfort, with some credits shared by the curved sides. But, this aluminum body is smooth enough to make the phone slippery and I had to hold it with some grip.
Apple hasn’t just made the screen larger, as you get to see a better resolution display as well, and thus, this isn’t just a blown up larger version of the iPhone 6. The best part, is the landscape viewing where all the home screens get arranged in a landscape view. What better than this? This could be the best thing for an iPad user who has a habit of doing this, viewing stuff in landscape mode. And for now, the landscape orientation viewing is seen only in the iPhone 6 Plus.
For the users who feel the display is large enough to make those app icons smaller than they are, Apple has included a feature called “Display Zoom” where the text and controls become larger, easier to access. Again, Apple hasn’t ever been careless about the fragmentation, app compatibility, thus most of the apps you see for the iPhone 6 Plus will have the optimized versions rather than the normal version enlarged for the larger screen. Some apps are optimized in a way to replicate what they have been doing on the iPad. For example, the mail app where you see two tabs, one on the left showing just the summaries and the body of the mail on the right side (in the horizontal orientation of the iPhone).
Talking about the display in particular, it looks brilliant as always, and the response is excellent, while the brightness too is quite high, not making it oddly dull under bright sunlight. While this looks better than that of the LG G3 and Sony Xperia Z3’s display in terms of brightness, it doesn’t beat the SuperAMOLED display on the Galaxy Note 4, the main competitor with a 2K resolution display.
While the screen size is 5.5-inch, the resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels keeps the pixel density to a good 401 PPI, which isn’t bad at all. No noticeable pixels, and the display gets a vote for this being one of the best looking ones in this year’s flagship devices.
To make the user experience better for those who feel adjusting to the larger screen is hard, there is another additional feature given – two-tap gesture. For the little hands that have happily held the earlier iPhone versions with ease, the bottom half of the iPhone 6 Plus can be easily reached, but it is not the same for the top part of the device screen in portrait orientation. The double tap gesture makes it easy to reach there, by forcing the content from top part to be pushed down. Just gently double tap the home button and you will see the content being pushed down. It’s quite logical – if you wanted to touch on the lower half content, you can already do it. But for reaching the upper half, the double tap helps and you don’t see the lower half section when you see the content pushed down.
These things, especially for the large display and the usability, make it clear about Apple’s intentions to sell this as a perfect phablet for all kind of users. They aren’t just giving the users a larger iPhone 6 with nothing different. The extra features are the ones making the user experience better, although the device is made excessively large, and taller than the Galaxy Note 4, which has a 5.7-inch display.
Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus runs its latest iOS 8.1 operating system version, and as always, the close environment that Apple has created only for the Apple user, appeals well only to its users and no one else. But that is enough for us to applaud it for giving an excellent user interface with no hidden stuff that the user has to keep searching for, and no huge bloatware as well. After all, the iOS is limited by Apple and thus, they know what has to be fitted in, before releasing the product.
But having said that, the iOS still has a number of drawbacks, which keep the Android users and Windows Phone users as well, away from it. It is not the iPhone 6 Plus or any iPhone, but the iOS that is at question for those who are thinking to switch.
Even the basic connectivity options such as Bluetooth are limited, and one cannot manage files, download music or videos or such from the web, and there is a single and simple solution for everything – the iTunes. That does help the users take a backup and restore with ease, but in this world of virtually sharing photos and content, Apple is limiting users with a very few options. Though, the motive behind that is good – security first.
The parallax effect is there, as interesting as it was before, and the lock screen presents itself with the time widget, camera shortcut and “slide to unlock” section, and the user can access notification center without having to unlock the screen, even if there is a PIN code lock active on lock screen. Touch ID, the fingerprint recognition to unlock the screen, is very much accurate and tad better than the one on Galaxy S5, though we see some improvements on the Galaxy Note 4. The iOS never has changed leaps and bounds, except for the icon structures and stuff, and thus the home screen comes with the background wallpaper and the icon tray in the bottom, while the app icons are directly seen on the home screen (the word home screen makes no sense here, as there is no separate place for apps).
The apps that you see pre-installed apart from the much needed Camera, Photos, Calendar and such ones, include Maps, Game Center, iBooks, Newsstand, Health, Passbook, FaceTime, Podcasts and iMovie. The last app that we mentioned, iMovie, is brilliant and it lets you make some creative movies out of the pictures and videos you capture, with credits, music and lots of stuff. This is again, not in comparison with the Note 4’s S-Pen dedicated apps, if you might be wondering.
Apple’s new Health app that was introduced with iOS 8, shows some great statistical data of the steps walked, walking and running distance, floors climbed and data about calories, minerals, vitamins, BMI and such but the problem with this, is that it counted steps lesser than what the Note 4 counted, and we found the Note 4 almost matching the number of steps calculated by Goqii, the fitness band being used to compare. Still, not limiting the health app to just step counting, makes it far more useful because you can log the vitals, register a medical ID with conditions, write in any notes and enter the medications you are taking. More like a personal assistant trying to keep a check of everything after you visited a doctor for your medical condition.
Continuity is the new best. I’m using a Macbook Pro, thus it was an easy ride where I could do a lot on the large screen Mac rather than on the iPhone, especially while replying to messages. This again, is not a cent percent useful because just like the apps like PushBullet for Android, you feel annoyed and disturbed when having the phone in your hand, and seeing the bundle of notifications on your laptop, making it a bit confusing. Tried and tested the Instant Hotspot feature where you can directly turn the hotspot on the iPhone ON from your Mac when there is no Wi-Fi available, and that was indeed very good a feature, because it turned off by itself when any other Wi-Fi network was available, and the Mac connected to it.
Overall, although the iOS is limited and doesn’t let the user do much except if they wish to void the warranty and jailbreak the device (the jailbreak for iOS 8.1 is not available though), it does give the user a good experience. Especially on the iPhone 6 Plus, the additions that we talked about earlier, i.e. the landscape mode, two-tap gesture to bring the top content towards the bottom, are all to make the usage only better.
It is the same 8-megapixel camera on both, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but the latter is expected to do a better capturing compared to the iPhone 6, and it indeed does that. The reason for that is the superior optical image stabilization, which is not limited to the software process.
The only problem with the camera of iPhone 6 Plus is the lens that is not that wide, limiting the captures to a resolution of 3264×2448 pixels, which is not a wide rectangle that we see on the cameras of flagship devices from Samsung, LG, Sony and HTC. For flickr sharing and instagram, this is a perfect shape, but still, are we limiting to that with such a good camera? “Good”, yes because the number 8-megapixel might look like still the 2012-2013 camera resolution, but that isn’t the case here.
The camera is slightly raised on the back, and that can be little of a concern, but not something that you can ignore totally.
The camera boasts features such as Slo-mo video, which is captured at 240 frames per second, and the quality isn’t any compromising, again because of the optical stabilization. Have been using some great camera smartphones running the Android OS in the recent past, but now the iPhone 6 Plus takes a place in the list of top camera smartphones for the year 2014.
The reason for that, is the way Apple tries to keep the pictures as natural in looks as possible. There is minimal loss of details, good sharpening and amazing color reproduction, except for the low light captures. It was disappointing in a few cases where although the software+hardware combination tried to brighten the picture taken in low-light conditions, it was as grainy as it could be. But that wasn’t the case always, and the flash did some good job with no excess light on the object.
The larger screen here is more advantageous, for a clearer and better preview of what you are going to capture. Also, the panorama feature is available and you have to take the picture with the phone held in portrait orientation, but it is no where near perfect. There are clear demarcations showing the joining of frames, and that doesn’t help to make the capture good and wide.
The modes one can shift between, are Photo, Video, Square, Pano, Slo-mo and Time lapse. Apple isn’t known for providing any big list of effects or features, and thus in the photo capture mode, you can toggle flash, HDR mode, timer and the front/back camera. The video capturing is possible to a max. of 1080p resolution, and that is good enough, because we’ve been arguing about the actual need for 4K video recording, which is right now not a huge thing to have in smartphones, as you need a 4K display on TVs or monitors to view that captured content in the right way.
Performance wise, the iPhone 6 Plus is swift, and it is better than that of the iPhone 5s, because you see no lag or slowing down of the UI on continuous usage or multitasking. This again won’t be good to compare with the latest Android devices, because the usage is entirely different. To be frank, you would share pictures through Bluetooth, receive them and go to the file manager, rename stuff, move the files between folders and such things are possible only with Android devices, where the storage can be played around with, and expanded as well (not on all smartphones though). In the iOS, one of the strong reasons for a good performance is the limitation of features. The user is not given the option to do whatever they wish to, and thus, the performance of the actual features and apps gets better.
The one we have is the 16GB variant, thus there is a limit on the apps we can install and fill up the storage. We’ve seen the iPhone 5s showing some lags on heavily filled 64GB storage, and that is quite understandable, thus we won’t make assumptions about the performance of the 64GB and 128GB variants of iPhone 6 Plus without any testing.
Video rendering was swift, and similar was rendering of high-end games, but the only little lag I noticed, was when opening the multitasking bar by pressing the home button twice, because it took about a second (that could again be the time taken for the phone to understand that I was triggering the multitasking bar) to start it. Everything else loads fast, without any problem.
One of the concerning issues for the iPhone owners was the battery life, as although several users claimed that their devices got more than a day’s usage on the iPhone 5s, many others were disappointed with the quickly draining battery. The iPhone 6 Plus can be one such smartphone for the iPhone lovers, who now takes away one more point from the list of issues they had. The battery life on this large device is excellent, and as is the case with Apple, it is not about numbers. Still, they included a 2915 mAh battery, which is kind of huge and comparatively higher than the earlier iPhones.
For the actual usage, here’s a few tests we did and the results of them.
Overnight standby on mobile network (All connectivity options turned off): there was no battery drain at all, as it was still on 100% for the 8 hours, in a fluctuating network zone.
Camera usage: While trying to record a hyperlapse video, the battery went down from 91% to 82%, i.e. 9% battery usage for 20 minutes of active video recording.
On normal usage, with 3G and Wi-Fi on automatic toggle (with regular work day, where it is about 10 am to 8 pm on Wi-Fi, and the other time on mobile data connectivity), the battery went down to 37% from 100% from morning to night, and that was with several calls, some web browsing and stuff.
That battery response to all the regular stuff, and giving more than a day’s usage is seriously something one would love about the iPhone 6 Plus. This so far, is the best battery life of any iPhone.
Mixed opinions here, because whatever Apple has included is great in its own way – data connectivity, Wi-Fi but the limitations are something one would always worry about. The Bluetooth connectivity is still limited to only Apple devices, and that is again not for file transfer but for headphones and wearable devices. But the data connectivity comes with the toggle between 2G/3G/4G, which is a great addition this time because now the user can select the network based on the need, and also can shift to 2G if traveling and didn’t want to worry much about data network connectivity.
The continuity feature on the iOS 8 & OS X Yosemite is all thanks to the good connectivity between the two devices. It worked perfectly during our tests, and we could easily pickup the call on Mac and not take out the iPhone from charging, when a call is received.
The speakers are excellent, with Apple putting a focus more on the clarity, rather than on the sound level. To compare, the HTC One M8 has a higher decibel level, and there is no distortion whatsoever on even the maximum volume level, but on the other hand, it is all good although the iPhone 6 Plus doesn’t have a similar high sound level.
It is an endless fight between Android and iOS, and the devices running these operating systems. But, to be frank, there is no clear winner between them. It is just a question of what the end user feels well settled with. The Apple iPhone 6 Plus is a great smartphone for two types of users – Android users who were happy with the large screen but didn’t opt for iPhone earlier due to its smaller size, and those iPhone users who always wanted a larger screen for their own reasons.
There are no big flaws in the device, except for the limited storage options and obviously, you have to pay more to get a better storage version. The low light photography is also a bit of concern, and finally the body is slippery and needs some attention while held in hand. Except for these, the iPhone 6 Plus is perfect, with the brilliant display and the great camera, and the battery too impressed a lot.
To end it here, the Apple iPhone 6 Plus is clearly the best iPhone Apple has made till date, and although this won’t appeal to the buyers from every region, it could receive more attention in the Eastern markets where there is already a great demand for large screen smartphones, especially the Samsung Galaxy Note series since the time they were introduced.